On 20 July 2022, a boat manufacturing company was sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court for two offences of breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty.
At the material time, the defendant company operated a factory in which its workers were required to use five manually operated presses to shape large aluminium sheets into hulls. Multiple workers had to work together to safely operate a press. According to the system of work implemented by the defendant, workers were expected to maintain line of sight with each other when operating a press. Workers were expected to communicate with each other and stand clear before actuating the press. As stated in the operator’s manual, each press was designed to have a safety mechanism consisting of a light beam spanning across the front of the jaws of the press. A break in the light beam would automatically stop the jaws from closing.
One press was in use at the defendant’s premises from 2012 onwards. The safety mechanism on this machine was inoperable from the time that the press was first in use. Workers had reported this issue to their managers. On 21 February 2018, the defendant received a service report concerning the presses at its premises. This report identified that the safety mechanism on one of the presses was inoperable. In July 2018, the defendant received a quotation for the cost to fix the issue. At no time did the defendant remove the press from use until the inoperable safety mechanism was repaired. It also failed to ensure the operating speed of the press was slowed to minimise the risk of a worker being caught or crushed. These failures exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury from being crushed by the press.
The report received on 21 February 2018 identified three other presses with an operable, but inadequate, safety mechanism. The safety mechanism on each of these machines did not adequately guard against the risk of a worker being caught or crushed by the jaws of the press. The quotation provided in July 2018 included the cost of remedying the inadequate safety mechanisms on these three presses. At no time during the offending period did the defendant remove any of the three presses from use until such repairs were done. The failure to do so exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury from being crushed when operating one of the presses.
On 4 September 2019, the risk of serious injury materialised for a worker. He and another worker were operating the press that did not have an operable safety mechanism. One of the workers actuated the press without ensuring the other was ready for that to happen. The jaws of the press closed onto that worker’s right forearm, causing multiple fractures to his wrist.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Kilner found it was an “important aggravating factor” that the defendant had ignored complaints by employees about the dangers of the press over a long period of time. His Honour also found it an aggravating feature that multiple machines were involved. The defendant had placed “profit before safety” by not ensuring the safety mechanisms on the machines were adequate and operable. Considering the nature of the risk, his Honour observed the defendant’s reliance on workers to “keep an eye on each other at all times” was “hardly sufficient”.
His Honour had regard to the fact that the defendant implemented significant safety measures after the incident involving the injured worker, such that its recordable incident rate had significantly decreased. His Honour also noted the owners of the defendant had only acquired it about one month before the incident, and thus had limited opportunity to make the necessary changes to safety procedures before the incident occurred.
His Honour determined the appropriate penalty to reflect the overall criminality of the defendant was a global fine of $140,000. His Honour declined to record convictions, noting that specific deterrence is of reduced importance because of the defendant’s lack of prior convictions; cooperation with the authorities; and efforts to minimise future accidents which demonstrate it is anxious to avoid any recurrence.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 19(1), 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (two charges)